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Posted on Fri, May 17, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Fire officials upset after Ypsilanti City Council declines request for public presentation

By Katrease Stafford


Ypsilanti officials have denied fire officials the opportunity to be placed on a future city council agenda, citing negotiation concerns.

Courtney Sacco |

The Ypsilanti City Council has declined to hear a presentation from local and statewide fire officials arguing against the creation of a hybrid public safety model and one council member said she believes the decision is a form of censorship.

City Council Member Susan Moeller requested the presentation be added to a future council meeting after being approached by Ypsilanti Fire Union President Ken Hobbs. Moeller thinks the possible creation of a hybrid model should be discussed more in depth in the public, since it would affect citizens.

In order to have a presentation added to an agenda, a council member must first propose the addition and it must be seconded by another council member. Moeller said she failed to secure a second.

"I think it's terrible," Moeller said. "... It's nothing illegal about them coming to speak. They just don't want to hear them."

The city and fire department are negotiating a new contract now, but progress has been slow according to Mayor Paul Schreiber. The contract expired nearly a year ago on June 30.

Schreiber said he doesn't support the fire officials giving a public presentation because he believes it would cross the line of negotiating in a public atmosphere. Schreiber acknowledged that emails, one of which he says was attorney-client confidential, were exchanged regarding the presentation but declined to comment on the specifics.

"How appropriate is it to have a member of the union or the bargaining unit speaking to city council?" Schreiber said. "The city charter tasked the city manager with handling the negotiations and as far as having a bargaining unit make a presentation to council, it brings budget negotiations to the public.

"This is a union negotiation and I don’t think it's good for the fire department or the city to be negotiating in public. There's nothing that keeps Ken Hobbs from coming or speaking during audience participation."

Hobbs, Chair of the Michigan Professional Firefighters Public Safety Committee Monty Nye and others wanted to present documentation they believe shows why the hybrid department would be ineffective and detrimental on city operations.

Earlier this year, City Manager Ralph Lange announced the city would pursue creating a hybrid police and fire department. Lange said the two departments would be stand-alone, but supplemented with cross-trained public safety officers who would be equipped to do both jobs.

The Ypsilanti hybrid model would cross-train police officers and firefighters to perform both duties. Officials said present city employees would have the option of being cross-trained.

Several firefighters and former Fire Chief Jon Ichesco have openly voiced their opposition to the hybrid model and urged the city to move forward with regionalization.

Moeller said she asked earlier this month for the addition and several council members told her they didn't believe the presentation was appropriate. Moeller again asked council members in a Tuesday email to reconsider, but she has yet to hear anything.

"I thought I could talk them into it personally and I asked them to reconsider," Moeller said. "No one has seconded it."

Moeller said some council members said the alternative would be for each individual who wanted to present to speak during the audience participation portion of a council meeting for the allowed three minutes. Moeller said that isn't feasible because they have an entire presentation prepared and the public participation portion wouldn't allow for enough time.

"I'm very unhappy," Moeller said. "When groups are told they can't speak, it’s a form of censorship."

Hobbs said he wanted to present now while the city is going through budget sessions and to give the public more of an opportunity to learn about what he believes a hybrid model entails. Hobbs said he believes the city has yet to give residents an opportunity to chime in on what's being discussed.

"There’s really not a good time for us to approach the subject because it's not on the agenda and not something they’re openly discussing," Hobbs said. "We waited until they started having these budget sessions and thought it would be a good time to do a presentation on why we're against it. That model will end up costing them more money."


City Manager Ralph Lange, pictured left, and Mayor Paul Schreiber, right, have said the hybrid model would help the city regain its financial footing.

Courtney Sacco I

Hobbs said the presentation would not have included anything related to negotiations, but instead costs and figures he believes council should consider before moving forward with the model.

"I just wanted to present to council the information we have on public safety and the costs so that they could take that into consideration," Hobbs said. "We’re doing it from a financial standpoint, not a negotiation standpoint. You're in budget hearings and you’re going to make a budget decision. Give us an opportunity to present and show you why it's not a benefit to you."

Council Member Pete Murdock said he also wasn't in favor of a public presentation.

"We don't do contract negotiations at the council table," Murdock said. "... We're in the middle of contract negotiations and staff is responsible for doing the negotiations. We gave them direction in terms of how to proceed and that's how we do negotiations."

Despite not being in favor of the public presentation, Murdock said the fire officials are welcome to speak during the three-minute audience participation segment of council. Murdock said he believes there have been opportunities for the public to speak either for or against the model.

"There's opportunities to do that all of the time," Murdock said. "I just think it's inappropriate for us to be doing that because we're in contract negotiations."


Council Member Pete Murdock is not in favor of having fire officials present before council.

Courtney Sacco |

Moeller said she is against the creation of a hybrid department because she doesn't see any cost savings and she believes it would affect how services are delivered.

"I feel that I represent my ward and I was elected by my citizens and I asked them about it and a lot of the citizens from Ward 2 wrote me that they didn’t favor it and I feel that I'm really representing the citizens and not just my own personal opinion. Just from looking at the numbers, it doesn’t look like it will save money."

Early estimates show it will cost the city between $30,000 and $34,000 each to cross-train police officers and firefighters. Yet, the city projects it would save $2.1 million over the next five years.

The city will spend about $663,480 during the next four years to train new and existing officers, about $75,000 on uniforms and equipments, as well as other fees amounting to $943,480. The city believes it will find about $210,315 in short-term savings in one year or less of the program being put in place.

When asked whether the city can move forward with the model after it was denied a nearly $1 million grant from the Michigan Department of Treasury, Murdock said the city is looking at ways to pay for the model.

"The question is can we afford to do anything?" Murdock said. "I think Ralph has laid out how he plans to cover police and fire with the scaled down proposal and that’s part of his budget process."

Moeller said she supports the hiring of more police personnel, but is concerned that the public safety officers would be paid well above what current employees are.

"I'm supportive of having more police in Ypsilanti, but the way it works is a PSO person would earn 22 percent more than a firefighter," she said. "Right now police earn 15 more percent than fire. I don’t think it’s a budget savings because everyone has to train and there still might be overtime costs. It hasn’t been really clarified that it’s a budget savings."

Schreiber said he supports the creation of a hybrid model.

"From everything I've seen so far, I'm in support of it," Schreiber said. "The thing I found so striking is when Chief Amy Walker said a lot of the times the police end up being the first respondents, she said she would have loved to have some fire gear in the trunk and get in there.

"Mr. Lange is continuing to pursue it because he feels he has enough support from council to pursue it. It's certainly not a done deal."

Murdock said the hybrid model is the road the city is going down.

"That's the proposal the city manager had from the very beginning," Murdock said. "We're allowing him to pursue it. We have to resolve the issues with contract in order to do it and it's been almost a month since we've met. They want to negotiate it somewhere else other than the table where it's supposed to be."

Nye, who also is a firefighter in Meridian Township, said he's seen the hybrid and public safety model and fail across the country. Nye said Meridian Township once had a public safety department, but ended up going back to the traditional model of two completely separate departments.

"It’s the same failed concept," Nye said. "We just wanted to come with facts and figures and they don’t want to hear it. They’re refusing to let the firefighters present documentation. We are asking them to just be open and be truthful. Let the public hear about this."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.


Steve Pierce

Sat, May 18, 2013 : 4:05 a.m.

The current mayor once had a special City Council presentation by members of the John Birch society (he didn't realize who they were until someone explained it to him after their presentation), yet he is not interested in hearing from Ypsilanti Fire Fighters. Yeah, that about sums it up.


Sat, May 18, 2013 : 2:59 a.m.

Translation: We've already decided what we're going to do, and we don't want to hear why it won't work.


Sun, May 19, 2013 : 11:04 p.m.

Government transparency at it's finest.

not a billy

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

In my previous post, I suggested that the street officers be asked their opinion about going into burning buildings with gear from their truck. I know that the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and other police union groups typically support PSO and cross training efforts. I personally feel that their support is a means to bolster their membership numbers (strength in numbers philosophy). Ultimately, the number of times a police officer is going to be the first one in a building is very minute, so the acceptance of the responsibility is an easy one to accept. It is easy to take the position that the POAM will agree if the existing fire personnel are not "affected". Saying what the politicians want to hear is easy when you want to feather your own hat. The fire unions will not sell themselves out just to gain members. Talk to the police officers that are working on the streets and see what their individual, personal opinions are on the subject. The honest ones will tell you it doesn't work and that they have little or no desire to take the risk. It is easy for many people to sit back and say "I can do that" without a great deal of sincerity and/or true intention. The PSO models, regardless of which one is looked at, are all different and are unique to the jurisdiction. For every one that "works", my bet is that there are several that do not work. It all comes down to who has the stage and the best sales pitch. As with just about anything, facts and numbers can be twisted to show what you want them to show. As an example in real life, nobody hires an attorney to tell them what they don't want to hear. You hire one that is willing to take your money, present your case, and at the end of the day they made the money and you live with the results. City managers are much the same.


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

I guess there should not be any information talking about the benefits of hybrid models talked about either since it is a negotiation topic. Seems like normal politics, it is okay for the politicians talk about their way but not any other.

Katrease Stafford

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

TK2013, you're right. The hybrid model is different from the full public safety department, which would cross-train all employees. The hybrid model in Ypsilanti would have separate police and fire departments with an "adequate" number of firefighters to respond to daily service demands. Under the direction of a new public safety director, there will be a deputy police chief and a fire chief. This would be coupled with a larger police department that would have a certain number of cross-trained officers that have been trained and equipped to respond to major fire incidents whenever the fire department is busy or on another run. Before the city found out it was not going to receive nearly $1 million in grant funding from the state for the creation of the model, it planned to hire four new officers, who would be cross-trained. The old plan also called for four "conversions" of current officers in 2015 and four conversions in 2016. For each subsequent year until 2016, the city planned to cross-train another four officers, bringing the total to 20 cross-trained officers by 2016. Since the city didn't receive the grant, I believe it is in the process of re-examining how the model would look.

Katrease Stafford

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

Not a billy, Actually, in all of the stories I've done, I've been careful to include the opposing view to this issue with facts provided by them, as well as those in favor. I've spoken with several fire officials, including union reps and former Fire Chief Jon Ichesco, who have been quoted extensively as to why they're not in favor. Also, in the articles I'm referencing, I've also included information about where the public safety model has worked and where it hasn't.

not a billy

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 4 p.m.

As much as I respect the job that reporters do, I truly believe that you are being presented with (and subsequently promulgating) a very one-sided view of the Public Safety Officer concept. I feel that you are getting very skewed information from the city manager, police officials and the politicians. It may look good on paper, many uninformed people may support it, but the bottom line is that an unbiased study should be done. Finding an unbiased source to do this is the difficult, possibly impossible, part of the equation.


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

What exactly is a "hybrid public safety model" anyway? As discussed, the proposed model doesn't even begin to resemble an actual public safety department (full and complete cross-training of all employees). As best I can tell, the phrase "hybrid public safety model" is a fancy-sounding name for maintaining a woefully understaffed police department, a woefully understaffed fire department, and changing the title of the police chief to public safety chief.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

What an incredibly lame excuse to attempt to spin this discussion into the topic of contract negotiations. The presentation should be scheduled and given to the public, and then the public can engage the council on the topic. The Ypsi residents should be livid that their council is trying to restrict discussion of this topic. But I think most couldn't care less what government does in terms of actually getting involved and going to a meeting. They'll complain to their neighbors every day for 20 minutes but they won't stand up and speak at a meeting for 3 minutes.


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

This is very disappointing. I have written my ward reps and the mayor asking them to please reconsider. I cannot believe they are willing to make such a big decision without hearing all the information available to them. It is irresponsible. I encourage everyone who feels strongly to contact City Council to voice their opinions about this matter. City Council member contact information can be found at the bottom of this page:


Sun, May 19, 2013 : 11:04 p.m.

the city manager told the council that it is a good idea, no matter how many dissenting opinions there are out there. the hybrid plan should do the job that it is intended to do, which is save the city money. most likely because the current firefighters and police will move on somewhere else.


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

Every day at the office I hear about "creating efficiencies" and "cross-training"... All sounds great and looks great on paper. Until you need that cross trained person to actually do 2 or more jobs at the same time....then you find you need two or more people don't you? Cross training is great for resource allocation and peak workloads. Cross training DOES NOT REPLACE having 2 workers.

not a billy

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

It is so very obvious that city council members have gotten been given an extremely biased perspective on the operation of the Fire Department and this so called "hybrid" model. They are listening to somebody, but are unwilling to listen to the other side of the story. Censorship? Maybe. Ignorance? More likely. It is also interesting that the mayor is supporting comments from the police chief ("The thing I found so striking is when Chief Amy Walker said a lot of the times the police end up being the first respondents, she said she would have loved to have some fire gear in the trunk and get in there") shows a total ignorance of what the fire service does and a blatant disregard for safety and the state rules that govern FD scene operations. Having a bunch of junk in the trunk does not make you a Fire Fighter. Chief Walker going into a burning building? Really? Why don't they ask the street officers what their opinion about running into a burning building just because you are there first with some fire gear. Reality check 101.

Katrease Stafford

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Not a billy, I'm glad you mentioned the officers. I think readers should check out past articles I've written to get a better idea of how some police officials feel. The Police Officers Association of Michigan President Robert Peto said he was initially reluctant toward the hybrid department, but said the police union ultimately decided to agree to it, but only if the fire department would be maintained. Here's a quote from him: "I said this from the beginning, I was one of the most reluctanct officers you'll ever see against public safety. The stipulation was that it would not affect anyone under the roof of the fire department right now. If someone new comes in, they can be cross trained and they're not going to know the difference. We worked through that." Up until some time last year, Chief Walker was looking into several ways to work more with surrounding municipalities, including possible regionalization efforts. Now that city officials have decided to move forward with the hybrid department, she's devoting her efforts toward that. I think what this shows is at the end of the day, both departments are understaffed and just want to find a way to increase staffing. Here are the articles:

zip the cat

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 12:18 p.m.

Well,those who choose to snub the fire dept better hope there house don't catch fire